Nick Bubb (NB): The time is now 6:01pm and you’re listening to “Labor Radio” on KBOO 90.7 FM. I’m Nick Bubb and…
Michael Cathcart (MC): I’m Michael Cathcart…
NB: Mike how are ya, it’s been a while?
MC: Yeah Nick it’s great to see you again, I’m glad that you’re back. I know that you’ve been out traveling the world.
NB: I finally cashed in, took some of the fruits of my labor and went a saw a few things. But it’s great to be back in the studio, especially since we’ve got a very special guest tonight.
MC: Yes indeed! For folks who are loyal listeners of the show you may remembers last month, about exactly a month ago, we conducted part one of our two part interview with city council candidate Philip J. Wolfe. And tonight we are going to continue that with the second part of the interview. Philip is joining us in the studio right now, good evening Philip.
Philip J. Wolfe (PJW): Good evening, good to see you both again. Those are amazing shoes that you’ve got, I just have to mention that really quick, I can’t stop looking at them.
[Group laughing together]
NB: Thank you!
MC: For the radio audience, Nick is wearing shoes that are totally gold and the bottoms are basically multicolored flashing lights.
NB: I’m a walking Christmas tree right now, if you will.
MC: This time of years it’s safe though, you need to be able to be seen.
NB: Well I did right the motorcycle in so it’s an added layer of visibility with these…
MC: That’s right, there you go. It’s perfect for this time of year.
PJW: It’s smart.
NB: Thank you!
MC: Yeah they’re pretty amazing.
NB: So Michael…
MC: Yeah, I mean what is this the week of thanksgiving? We are running right into the holiday season here. Portland is looking beautiful with all the lights everywhere. I think the Christmas tree is going to be lit up downtown next week. There a lot of flashy things happening downtown. One of which, and this is a terrible segue but were going to jump right in, you may remember last month we ended our discussion talking about housing issues in Portland. Something that has come uo since then is the announcement of a new plan by a developer to build the largest skyscraper in the city. A massive, I think something like a 26 or more story shiny glass structure on the old post office site downtown. And that, you may have different opinions about what it should look like or whether or not it will add to the skyline. But regardless of that it will definitely add more people living in the downtown area.
NB: Becasue we don’t have enough yet.
MC: Yeah right, as if this city isn’t already congested enough.
PJW: Yeah I definitely wanted to talk about that for sure. That skyscraper, first off, as I was reading an article about it, I was caught off guard a little bit. I was almost like, “wait wait wait, no no no” as I’m reading it and making my way through. First off that’s just not the way I see Portland in my mind. I see Portland as this kind of almost old fashion community feel. Yeah of course we have great buildings, but they’re not these new shiny skyscrapers that feel like they’re just made for rich people. You know? Those things fit in San Francisco, they fit in British Columbia. It’s nice and fancy and big and shiny there, and that’s perfect but the way that Portland is supposed to be, the way we envision Portland it just doesn’t have things like that. I have a lot of concerns about trying to build skyscrapers like that. And like you said it’s going to bring more people, but of course it’s going to bring in more cars and congestion. We have to figure out where people are going to park, where they’re going to live, and what they’re going to do, it’s just “no” across the board.
MC: Right, and if you look at the likely demographics of folks who would live in that building, this is not to generalize but becasue it will be so fancy and so new, it will have higher rents, it will probably attract people…
NB: …with a lot of money, yep.
PJW: Yes, yes absolutely.
MC: …exactly. And people with a lot of money tend to ride cars, tend not to ride the bus that often. And that may of course be a horrible generalization, but it seems to be for the most part true.
PJW: Yeah. And I definitely want to point out something else too. The fact is that right now we have so many issues with the disparity between the richest and the poorest in this city. The way that this class disparity is functioning. So if we’re just going to put a skyscraper into this city it’s just going to further that disparity and make the problem much worst. I really wanted to make sure we mentioned that.
MC: Right. And I may be under-informed here, but I know that the developer has mentioned that as sort of a tradeoff for getting to build the largest skyscraper in our city, they have said he will also build affordable housing elsewhere in town. Do you know the specifics about that?
PJW: Yeah, he was discussing affordable housing as sort of this gift to the community. I don’t know about the accessibility to that though. I definitely heard the word affordable but not accessible. That’s a big thing for me is I want to be sure that affordability is always matched with accessibility. And regardless I don’t want to see this huge skyscraper in this city. That’s not even like a justification for it, I just don’t want it period.
[Group laughing together]
MC: Yeah that is something we discussed last month, the difference between affordability and true accessibility. That’s true on a lot of fronts but in housing, “affordable housing” is a term that can be thrown around a lot and it may have been whitewashed in a lot of ways. But what’s the threshold for affordability, what does that really mean, and who actually has access to that?
NB: And it’s super important the affordability factor, becasue somebody has got to work jobs and if you’ve living in Salem commuting in to work these jobs, then that’s creating even more traffic. You know, it’s stressful on you. I mean 40 hours away from the family that’s already long enough, I mean that’s what we fought to get it down to that, but when you’re also spending two hours a day in traffic on the road
MC: If not more, yeah.
NB: …if not more then, you know, when do you get to put your kids to bed? When do you get to spend time with the family?
MC: Yeah, you don’t have true work/life balance there at all.
PJW: Exactly. Yeah absolutely, absolutely.
MC: And we saw the amount of pushback or ire directed towards that Burnside Bridgehead building, the giant black orb on the east side of the Burnside bridge. I mean obviously the new building will be shiny and full of glass, but can you imagine the change to our skyline and the pushback people will have once it’s built. People may not be thinking about it now, but once it’s built that’ll just change the look of Portland forever.
MC: And it will invite more tall giant buildings.
PJW: Yeah, absolutely, that’s a great point. And then that’s still supporting this whole commercialization of Portland. Trying to make it bigger and better and more competitive. It’s not what Portland is about. We’re supposed to stay local, we’re supposed to be supporting each other, it’s supposed to be an intimate setting where people are all really in the community. Here we have proposals and plans that are trying to individualize us, you don’t know the faces that are around you, you don’t know the community that’s around you. I’ve been to San Francisco, I’ve been to Las Vegas, I’ve been to New York, I’ve been to Amsterdam, I’ve been places around the world and I’ve seen these big cities and this is just not the vision of Portland.
MC: No. And speaking of the vision of Portland for the future, on you’re campaign website there’s a quote that I wrote down here. It says, “industrialized nations made a terrible mistake when they turned to the automobile as an instrument of urban mobility.” And like we were just saying, a new massive building for wealthier people will likely provide an increase of car traffic in the already congested areas. So I’d like to turn for the bulk of this discussion towards the issues surrounding transit in this city. Everyone who lives in this city, or anyone who lives around this city, knows full well that transportation has gotten more difficult over the last decade or more, and it seems that every single day it gets harder and harder to move around this city.
MC: So as someone, if you are elected to city council do you have specific proposals, are there certain issues surrounding transportation that you see as the top of your list that need to be dealt with right away to help alleviate travel time and congestion in this city?
PJW: Yeah, yeah I do. So that’s a great question, a fair question. I don’t think there’s a simple answer to it. From what I’ve seen just living here for almost ten years, living in the downtown area and just getting a feel for how this city works using my bike, using the bus system, using the various forms of transportation we already have, just from that experience alone…just going back to that industrialization, I love that you brought that quote up becasue I love that quote so much. You know, more cars, more problems. We have this congested downtown area that already has public transportation there, we already have the MAX system, we already have the bus, we already use Uber, and we do whatever, and theres still this permanent congestion that seems to exist in the downtown area. So, if I were to become commissioner I think prioritizing wanting to focus on this highway expansion project that they’re talking about. This half a billion dollar project out the window number one. I would want to hold that out for now becasue there are a lot more options that we need to prioritize first. We need to be looking at solving things in the downtown city area, not what’s around it, not what the freeways are doing, but adding transportation and fixing the transportation in the city becasue that’s going to trickle out and affect how the traffic works outside of the city as well. We have so many people that work fine when they’re driving until they make their way into the city and then they hit this congestion, they hit this chaos, and I understand wanting to make things better, but I don’t see this asa priority in making real, sustainable change for the future. So I think changing the focus into the inner city first would be my priority.
NB: Yeah it’s interesting about the roads too becasue I was talking with my friend Katie, Katie I hope you’re listening “Hi!”
MC: Hi Katie!
NB: She was saying that if you build more roads the actual studies indicate that people just fill them up, and traffic doesn’t really get better. You just get more cars on the road and people take public transportation less. So the problem doesn’t actually get solved by that.
MC: It’s true. And just to provide context for the listeners out there, Philip mentioned the expansion project specifically discussing about adding more lanes to I-5 running through the central part of the east side in Portland. Which anyone who drives around knows that it’s a major choke point around the city. But as much as that may seem like a solution, exactly like Nick said, study after study has shown that adding more lanes just increases driving. There is no way around that, that’s just the reality.
PJW: Absolutely. And we have to think about it realistically we have deaths that are being caused by cars, we have problems being caused by cars. It seems like it’s a simple answer we could focus on the cars first. My vision for downtown and for the city areas is that it’s walkable, that it’s bike-able, that it’s transportable, that you can paddle boat or do whatever but that you can function within that city. And I don’t want to so much ban cars, but I definitely want to make it open to take away the dependence on cars so that we can function within the city, so that we can move about freely without that congestion. Speaking of other countries, like I’ve said, we have huge huge cities that function so much smoother than the way Portland does. So trying to keep an open mind about the way we approach it, I think taking all those ideas into consideration is so important.
MC: I mean it seems only prudent to make our transportation system resilient. Instead of doing what we Americans love to do so much, which is focus solely on one particular mode, whether it’s transportation or economic systems or whatever it is, and just invest entirely in that. We need to have a resilient system that allows multi-modal transportation. You can go by bike, by foot easily, by train, by bus and maybe some cars in there as well. But allowing for if, say if car traffic is completely stopped that there are still ways of getting around the city without everything coming to a crashing halt.
PJW: Yeah definitely, yeah I agree.
NB: You mentioned that you’ve been to some of the cities in the world. I also studied abroad in the Netherlands, and they have excellent transportation as far as biking. Whereas here we have huge parking garages, they have massive garages of bicycles, just thousands and thousands of bicycles it’ll hold.
MC: Yeah it’s amazing!
PJW: Yes absolutely. And that’s a great point. When I was traveling, i was traveling from Paris to Amsterdam. And just the transport, they way that the trams and everything worked there was just beautiful. I felt like coming into Amsterdam was just this gorgeous experience, and coming into Portland we want something similar. Even if you have people that are traveling on one bus or whatever, they’re kind of just all going the same place. It was a whole different feel like, “oh you’re going to Amsterdam, oh me too. Come and sit with me.” There was just a whole lack of stress that was there. There was so many different ways to move about, there were transportation things happening all around me. and you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s just a whole different approach in terms of transportation over there.
NB: Oh yeah, so much better. You don’t hear about people getting bus rider rage.
[Group laughing together]
MC: Transit rage.
NB: Yeah you don’t hear about that, but road rage I mean that problem, the struggle is real.
MC: And it does seem like the ultimate goal for any city should be to, and this would take years and it many not be a thing that can actually happen, but ultimately the goal should be that cities are car free. That you can, if cars still exist whether in autonomous form or otherwise, you can get to the edges of the city where there are massive places to store your car, and then effective means of rail bus or otherwise transit to get into the core of the city and effectively move around. I mean that is the future vision I assume.
PJW: YEAH, absolutely! I also want to mention just on the key of that in relation to cars being the issue. I know that people often bring up electric cars and hybrid cars and that’s a wonderful thing, but something that a lot of people don’t know is that once that battery dies, there’s not an easy way to get rid of it, they’re not recyclable most of the time. So this is completely counter to the green energy trend that they’re trying to start the first place. And the whole mother earth thing that they are trying to support, and so I just see more and more cars getting build and industries keep going and going and making more and more. We already have so many cars, it’s like enough, just stop.
MC: And the way that cars are designed it’s just like any other piece of technology these days, it’s planned obsolescence. You know, cars are designed so they can’t necessarily last forever. So you take all of these resources, put them into this unit, where for the most part one person is operating it, but it can fit a lot more than that. And after ten, years fifteen years, it becomes completely ineffective. and then it’s scrapped or it’s just completely left to rot.
PJW: Oh yeah, that’s absolutely it. It’s so sad for me to see, like everyday I’m walking around the downtown area, and I see parking lots and whole lanes of downtown city that are just parked cars. And they’ve just been there all day, maybe the day before, maybe theres gas leaks and oil leas or whatever that are happening from old cars. And the worst that I see is these big SUVs, like people who drive the giant trucks and SUVs and they go into downtown and take this giant parking spot, and then there just this eye sore. I want it all out. I’m sorry I feel like I’m about to just soapbox on that.
MC: But there’s like amazing photos out there and depictions of it where they’ll take 100 people and they’ll say, “ok this is what 100 people in individual cars looks like.” And they’ll fill an entire six blocks of a road. “Now here’s what 100 people on a bus looks like. Now here’s what 100 people on foot looks like.” And it just continually gets smaller and smaller. The footprint of each one of those forms of transit becomes smaller and smaller as you move people out of individual vehicles, and into communal vehicles or into modes of transit that are foot based, whether that’s a bike or walking. And that sort of leads me into my next question, which is that we in this country and in this world love to tout techno-fixes for problems that really are more systemic. That you need to have a change in the way that we do systems thinking rather than just a bandaid techno-fix.
PJW: Yes. Absolutely.
MC: Once of those that is being thrown out there constantly now is self-driving cars. Do both of you, either of you have thoughts on whether or not that is a true solution or if that is just adding more cars into a situation where we can’t handle more cars?
PJW: I think that talking about that high technology and automatic cars, it’s a good idea…it’s an idea. My question is how this is going to impact, how this is going to be sustainable, how we’re going to be able to really depend on that, and does that fit Portland infrastructure the way the city is already built? Does it fit withe the things that we haven’t yet fixed? Are we just going to lay another layer of transportation on things that aren’t working and hope that that fixes everything? It doesn’t really come up as an ida that I’m really comfortable with fully supporting right now.
MC: Yeah. Nick do you have thoughts…
NB: I do as a matter of fact. You know, I love automation, I love automation in all forms to make our lives easier to do the things that we are truly passionate about I think is fantastic. But the problem is that it doesn’t seem to play out that way. Like I’m not working less hours now…
NB: …my whole life ever since reaching adult hood, or actually a little before that, I’ve been working many hours and I’m not reaping any benefits of the increase of productivity. I make more money now, but as far as time, you know, basically to live my life I’m trading 40 hours a week that I’ll never get back in order to feed myself, in order to put a roof over my head, in order to drive a car that I don’t really want to drive but the transit system as it is right now I don’t feel that I have that option. Being in construction I work at different job sites. I’ve been lucky right now I’ve got a long streak at Intel, but other than that I move around frequently. It’s hard to plan for transit.
PJW: Yeah, I definitely understand that perspective, I hear you on that for sure. And there are people who have, maybe, freelance jobs that are required to have five different organizations in five hours that they have to reach, it doesn’t fit the idea of public transportation always. You know, I definitely understand that there’s a different situation for everybody. But what we’re talking about is this congestion that’s in this city, and just adding more things to that is just going to make it worse. Unless these are options to keep functioning within the city and keeping care outside, like you said, a certain area. It’s not someone’s fault that they have a job that they need to drive, they should be penalized for that, but it doesn’t really address the issue of the congestion.
NB: And if I wasn’t clear, I love public transportation, but I also have to leave my house at 5am sometimes nd I’m just not, I don’t know what all services are available at that time…I guess Google Maps is helpful with that now, I just need to plug that in when I need public transportation now. But yeah I’m a huge fan…
PJW: Yeah, yeah. But then too even just ot being it, since you mentioned the Google Maps and things, it’s definitely nice to have the schedules and know where to go. But when we’re comparing that to, let’s say, driving. Trying to get things done faster when you’re used to getting on the bus and then you can email and you can get things done, you can take your pictures, you can work while you’re on the bus. Compared to driving you can’t text, you can’t even touch your phone. You have to pay attention to where you’re going to park, “can I park there for an hour, or not? Am I going to be good? What do I do for work?” It’s just so stressful. That’s just my personal comparison I wanted to make, but we can go to the next topic.
MC: Well yeah, actually just to add onto that a little. There was a study that came out recently that, I forget, it was somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of all trips made via ride shares, like Uber, Lyft and the various other companies out there, are being determined to be trips that would not have otherwise been made via car where it not for the accessibility of the ride-hailing systems. And so it sort of makes you think, as much as we try and add these solutions around individuals driving their own cars, it does kind of come back to the fact that cars in general tend to take up more space, and therefore create more congestion. So as much as we think, “well, self-driving cars they can communicate therefore they’ll merge better and there wont be as much traffic.” But still, if every single person is able to hail a self-driving car in the same way they’re able to hail an Uber, that means that there’s constantly a pool of those cycling around and every single person is going into an individual vehicle. Whereas, obviously a lot of people need to, in the same way that you do, when I go to play music I need to drive to places with a lot of equipment. There are times where you need to transport yourself around in a way that just does not work via public transit. But if we can start working towards limiting people driving, or moving around just going to this place or that place it could be done easily by transit, so that the majority of people on the roads are people who have to be driving. and then everyone else is in a bus or on a bike or on a train or something like that. That seems like that would be a better approach to, again, building a more resilient, multi-modal form of transit around the city.
PJW: Yeah, absolutely, spot on.
MC: Yeah. And let’s see, just becasue I am looking at the clock…
…and as is always the case…
MC: …I know, like we’re at 6:23pm, we started at 6pm and we have six minutes left. Anyways, transit is of course an issue that we could talk about forever. Just since you are running to be a public official in this city, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your opinions on the Vision Zero campaign. Portland Bureau of Transportation’s campaign to completely being the number of traffic fatalities, transportation fatalities, down to zero over, I forget the set amount of time they’ve given themselves to do that. But do you see that as…
PJW: I think it was 2025 I believe.
MC: …yeah that sounds right.
PJW: Yeah I definitely have thoughts on that. You know I did briefly look at what was involved in the campaign, their intentions and what they’re trying to do. But I don’t think that this is going to solve issues. The cars are what is causing the deaths. The car hits into somebody or something or some bike or some other car, if we’re not getting rid of the cars then we’re not really getting rid of the problem of the deaths. And so maybe if we git rid of cars we could see them go down. And I definitely have to sit down and look at Vision Zero a lot more and see if there’s ways that we can amend it, just how it’s being presented right now I’m definitely not satisfied with. And as someone who lives in downtown, and as someone who is in the city, I’ve experienced many near death moments with the cars going on around me. I have to be so aware all the time, people are zipping through the city. So, you know, it needs to be solved.
NB: I hear terms like, see I’m unfamiliar with this, I guess I’ve been gone so long that I’m not up to speed.
MC: Haha you’ve been out traveling the world.
NB: But I hear catchy key words like that and immediately it makes me think an increase in citation-based income for the city.
MC: I think you’re not wrong about that. Enforcement is a major part of that.
PJW: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
NB: I’m worse than the traffic, I just completely derailed us.
MC: No, no not at all.
NB: Tell me more about this Vision Zero though.
MC: The idea is basically to, and there is a few different ways they’re looking to do that, but to create a situation where there is no one dying while they’re transiting around the city. So whether that is driving, biking, walking, any other way of moving around the city, that, as Philip said, people aren’t getting hit by cars essentially. Becasue if you get hit by a bike you most likely are not going to die. But so it’s to bring the number of people, becasue every year a pretty scary number of people die just transiting round the city. And so to bring that down to zero is the vision.
PJW: Yeah, but when we’re thinking about police, when we’re thinking about crime, when we’re thinking about, say for example a car does hit someone, that car is now like a weapon, right? I mean we can definitely think that car is a weapon. So does that mean that all cars are like movable weapons in that sense? You know there’s different ways that you can take it.
MC: Just because we are now at three minutes ’till. I would love to jump into…there are so many more things that we could talk about with transit and we just barely scratched the surface of it. But just ot take a broader view, we cannot divorce our conversation from the fact that we are living through an era that is both terrifying and infuriating on the national and international political stage. So, as someone running for city council in Portland and as a resident of Portland, do you have…what do you see as a way that Portland can stand as a beacon of hope and progress and hope for the future against, you know, in a very regressive era, a very hateful era, a very divided era of local, national, international politics and culture?
PJW: Yeah, great question.
MC: Thank you!
PJW: If we look at history and the history of city council we just have a chronic of underrepresentation. This is something that happens again and again and again and this absolutely supports Trump and his vision. “We want to take away rights, we want to strip people of their ability to speak freely, we want to continue to benefit the rich and to ignore the poor” you know to use those words. And this is a problem we’ve had for many many years. But I’m actually thrilled at this opportunity to run, becasue I’m running with a bunch of other amazing people who will be representing their communities. I think that we can be a city council that’s full of diversity, that’s full of representation and change the game. We can include the city so much more, and include the voice and the opinion of the people who actually live here. So I’m honestly excited at the chance to be voted in and to really make that change happen. I know that 104 years since the city council has been put in, we’ve never had a deaf person run. So I’m the first one to do that. And I’m just thrilled for the opportunity to see the way that we can make the change happen through just the representation.
NB: Sorry, we’re just down to less than a minute now. I haven’t seen anyone peeking through the window for the next show, you know they do that. But I was just going to say that the people might not be tying it together, how does this fit into labor? But one of the most important things for labor is political activism.
NB: So if you’re out there listening you’ve got some soul searching to do. You’ve got to think about what policies, what representatives you want that are going to legislate for your needs at work. Who’s going to get you more paid sick time? Who’s going to get you more time off?
MC: Who’s going to stand up for your rights?
NB: To live your life and spend time with your family, you know, we all have a limited amount of time. So if people have any questions, people want to know more and they like what hey’ve heard, how can they reach out and get a hold of ya and how can they support your cause?
PJW: Yeah so I do have a website, www.philipforportland2018.com. So you can go ahead and click into any of the issue and goals I have. I have both written and videos that are up there for people to watch. I give a sort of background of my experience and who I’ve been, and who I am now, and how Portland has changed me. And so I’ve just ben trying to reach out with people on the ground and meet people face to face. Really I’m here for everyone. I’m looking forward to hearing voices and seeing how I can represent people. So, thank you for listening to me, and thank you for listening to us.
MC: Well thank you for being here Philip.
NB: Yeah thank you very much for being on the show. Everyone, this has been Philip Wolfe.
MC: Yeah, I’m Michael Cathcart and this is…
NB: I’m Nick Bubb and this has been “Labor Radio.” Coming up next, stay tuned, you don’t want to miss “Prison Pipeline.”
MC: Yes indeed. Have a great night!